Arusha, November 16, 2010(FH) - Presentation of defence case of former Rwandan Planning Minister Augustin Ngirabatware took off Tuesday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) with his lead counsel Peter Herbert seeking the acquittal of the accused, claiming that there was no evidence to prove the charges against him.

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"Find my client innocent and that is what he deserves. People of Rwanda want justice and nothing less," the counsel told Trial Chamber II presided over by Judge William Sekule when presenting his one and half hour opening remarks for Ngirabatware's defence case.

According to the counsel, the real hope of reconciliation between all people in Rwanda does not demand the convictions of an innocent man but requires magnanimity, forgiveness and justice for all irrespective of whether they are Hutu or Tutsi, rich or poor, minister or common man, male or female.

"Augustin Ngirabatware does not fear the evidence, he does not fear fair trial, he does not even fear those who prosecute and understand necessity of holding leaders to account for suffering of their people. What he fears is a Tribunal which bends under pressure to convict and that maybe afraid because of political repercussions," he submitted.

He, therefore, invited the judges to have courage in rendering justice saying, "To free an innocent man requires courage in many situations, convicting an innocent man is perhaps easy in the aftermath of the genocide at this Tribunal. I hope that you find the inner courage to do just that and do not betray the confidence that men have placed in you."

During hearing of defence case, Herbert submitted, they would show that Ngirabatware was a person of integrity and honesty who did not participate in any way in the 1994 genocide and that his sole problem was that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and tried to do what he could diplomatically to end the appalling violence that had occurred.

"We have strong alibi witnesses that from April 6 and 12, (1994) our client never left Kigali. We can demonstrate that it was no feasible to travel to Gisenyi and back during daylight hours. It is as ridiculous as suggesting that Tony Blair went on a bombing mission over Iraq or that George Bush or Dick Cheney went to drop some cluster bombs on Fuluja in Iraq personally," he argued.

The lawyer submitted further that they would establish that the Rwandan authorities have scripted the testimony of several prosecution witnesses, people who purport to see the minister distributing weapons to people who deny they received them, allege he gave speeches to audiences of people who never existed and facilitate the rape of women who were never raped.

"A man who is well liked and remembered with genuine affection, even now in Rwanda, respected by Hutu and Tutsi alike. In his own way he became to prominence as one of Rwanda's brightest economists he did much for Rwanda and was part of that new generation of African leaders who was willing to take part in politics and then to leave the stage to others without lining his pockets before doing so," he claimed.

Defence hearing comes after the court rejected a request by the prosecution, seeking one month postponement of the proceedings to enable them get more particulars of witnesses. The prosecution had claimed that particular of defence witnesses submitted were scanty.

The defence is expecting to call 95 witnesses to disprove charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against ther accused. The prosecution closed its case on August 31, 2010 after fielding 20 witnesses. The defendant's trial took off September 22, 2009.

Ngirabatware hails from what used to be the Nyamyumba district Gisenyi prefecture (North of Rwanda). He is the son-in-law of Felicien Kabuga, the alleged sponsor of the 1994 genocide, who is still on the run.

The former minister fled Rwanda in July 1994 and subsequently worked in various research institutes in Gabon and France. He was arrested in Germany on September 17, 2007 and has been in ICTR custody since October 8, 2008.


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